|The Swedish Data Act is in conflict with freedom of speech. If they
act was fully implemented, almost the whole Swedish branch of the Internet would
become illegal. A law which is not implemented causes a rich for corruption. The
law should be written to regulate only what it is written to regulate, i.e. real
person data bases.
This text is based on a Swedish-language summary of the data act, provided by the Data Inspection Agency. A somewhat longer Swedish-language version of this text is available . That version contains numerous links to source documents (mainly law texts in Swedish) which are not provided in this English translation. / Jacob Palme 6 July 1998.
Definition of a personal information base?
Official definition: Anyone who stores personal information on a computer must have a license from the Data Inspection Agency.
When is permission requested before storing personal information in a computer?
Official definition: Some kinds of storage of personal information requires permission in advance from the Data Inspection Agency. Such a permission will include instructions of what can be stored and how the stored information can be used. To use the personal information base in other ways is illegal. Three kinds of storage is illegal:
Other clauses in the Data Act
Official definition: Each organisation must keep a current list of its personal information data bases.
A private citizen ins entitled, once a year, to get, without cost, a listing of personal information in order to check that the information in the data base is correct.
If any piece of information is incorrect or misleading, it must be corrected or removed.
Sometimes adherence to the law is enforced:
Now, you may wonder: Is this funny law really enforced. The answer is "yes, sometimes". I have, myself, been ordered by the Data Inspection Agency to shut down a BBS .Later on, the agency permitted the BBS, if we promised not to discuss political and religious issues in it. Note that the Swedish constitution says that the rights to communicate on political and religious matters is of special importance.
At the same time, the Data Inspection Agency decided that all messages in this BBS must be erased after two years. This can be compared to a law, requiring libraries to burn all books which are older than two years!
An author, who asked the Data Inspection Agency for permission to use a computer to write a book, was refused. The author appealed to the Swedish government, which reversed the decision by the Data Inspection Agency. This does not, however, mean that there is no conflict betwee the Data Act and the freedom of speech. The opinion of the Swedish government is that only authors, journalists and artists are exempted in this way, not ordinary people.
But often, the law is not enforced:
Surely more than 99 % of all documents on the Internet, which according to the Data Act are not permitted without permission from the Data Inspection Agency, do not have such permission. In reality, the Data Inspection Agency acts to enforce the law, only in very few cases. Those who try to be lawful by asking for permission are persecuted, while those who just ignore the law are usually allowed to continue. And this is good, since strict enforcement of the law would make almost the whole Swedish branch of the Internet illegal.
Should the Data Act be abolished?
The basic principle in the Data Act: restrictions on personal information data bases, is not wrong. For example, the collection of, and selling of, personal information which is done by certain Internet information providers should be regulated. What is wrong is that the Data Act ins written in such a way, that it covers much more than it was really intended to control.
The Act should be changed, so that only systematic, organized collections of personal information, and which is used for actions which concern an individual (such as approval of loans, employment, legal actions, medical actions, direct marketing and other business activities) is covered. Information data bases which are easily used for undue spying on individuals should also be covered.
But other infringement of privacy in documents (text, pictures, sound) on the Internet are better handled by the laws abou libel, than by the Data Act.
The new Personal Information Act, which will replace the Data Act on the 25th of October, 1998, is unfortunately not much better. It introduces the very funny idea that freedom of speech is only needed for authors, journalists and artists, not for ordinary people.
The Swedish BBS Act
More about Swedish attempts to regulate the Internet
Other documents of interest.